In the wake of several major storms that have hit Connecticut in the past few years -- Irene, Sandy, the October 2011 snow storm, and others -- and resulted in massive, extended power outages, the General Assembly passed a law (Public Act 13-298) last year that created a "utility protection zone" of 8 feet all around electric utility infrastructure "from ground to sky" that should be cleared to help prevent future outages. The utilities -- UI and CL&P -- estimate that by taking down all these trees and limbs, they can prevent 25 to 50 percent of the outages caused by trees.
Hamden has been Ground Zero in the opposition to this plan, turning out hundreds of residents at two different meetings with UI to raise all kinds of objections. In New Haven, the Garden Club and Urban Resources Initiative have been leading the charge. Bottom line: these folks want dangerous, diseased or dead trees and branches removed, but not healthy trees that just happen to be growing near electricity wires and poles. The photo above is of Swarthmore Street in Hamden's Spring Glen section. If this plan is approved a second time by PURA, the Public Utility Regulatory Authority, all the trees on the left side of the street would come down. PURA approved the utilities' plan last year, and after some public hearings and other meetings in the past few months, is scheduled to make a final decision any day.
Another question often asked is why can't the wires be put underground? The utilities' stock answer is that it's too expensive -- a lot more than the $100 million ratepayers will be shelling out for the proposed "enhanced tree trimming" work (there's a phrase Orwell would be proud of). This New Haven Independent article runs down the pros and cons of undergrounding as well as many other issues related to this controversy.
I did a story for Free Speech Radio News that included interviews with utility reps in New Jersey and Long Island, both of which were hit much harder by the recent storms than Connecticut was. They both continue to trim in the V-shape, opening up trees (gutting them, some would say) to let the wires pass through, but it's a helluva lot less drastic that what our state wants to do.
I know there are plenty of people who support the utilities' plan; according to the utilities themselves, more than 90 percent of homeowners who've been contacted have agreed to have trees removed. People hated having their power out for 3, 5, or 8 days. We lost power in one of the storms for three days, and yeah, it was inconvenient. Eight days would have been truly awful. But trees, which absorb carbon dioxide, are one of the bulwarks against climate change, which is a factor in these worsening storms. They also, of course, provide shade (reducing need for air conditioning and thus reducing power needs), beauty, homes for critters, and a general sense of well-being. This five-year plan of the utilities could result in decades of loss.